What has up to now been merely an outrageous and embarrassing scandal in the Chicago Police Department is very likely about to cost the city of Chicago a lot of money.
Fifteen former residents of the Ida B. Wells Housing Project filed suit in federal court Friday, alleging they were framed by disgraced former police Sgt. Ronald Watts and the tactical team he headed at the Wells project for more than ten years.
“What happened in Ida B. Wells under the reign of terror of Sgt. Watts has to be among the greatest of all scandals in this city, if not the country,” attorney Jon Loevy said. “This is the code of silence in action---it happened over and over again, so many people affected, and nobody did anything.”
Dozens of individuals have now been exonerated after being convicted on drug and gun charges brought by Watts and his crew. Even prosecutors have agreed that the officers framed residents who refused to pay protection money, even as they were almost certainly running their own drug operations in the troubled projects.
Last fall, more than a dozen officers associated with the cases were pulled from the street and placed on desk duty. Many were also placed on a “do not call” list, the State’s Attorney saying their credibility is so damaged, they can never be used as witnesses again in a criminal case.
But critics have complained that the officers continue to enjoy police privileges and salaries, as their cases are slowly investigated.
“You cannot run a criminal enterprise by law enforcement of this scale, with this many people affected, unless police officers knew what was going on,” said Loevy. “And nobody did anything.”
Indeed, many of those named in Friday’s suits are former commanders who were in supervisory positions when Watts was working at Ida B. Wells.
“Nothing was happening until people spoke up,” said Loevy, surrounded by his clients. “And the people behind me are here to tell you, they’re speaking up!”